High school students from across the South Slave gathered in Fort Smith last week to learn about trades occupations and get a taste of what college life is really like.
The Trades Awareness Program, which runs introductory spring and intensive fall sessions at Aurora College’s Thebacha Campus, gives students a crash course in different trades to help them decide upon a future career path. Last week’s spring session featured day-long programs in cooking, heavy equipment, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, environment and natural resources technology, computers and a glimpse into trades in the airline industry.
“This is the best group of kids we’ve had yet,” Wayne Fehr, program coordinator, told The Journal. Fehr, a retired principal, has been involved in the program for seven years.
At the beginning of the week, each of the 43 students selected four trades of interest. They spent a day in each, learning the basics from college instructors and local community experts.
“It plants the seed for them, and then college life becomes an experience for them,” college president Sarah Wright Cardinal told The Journal at the welcome barbecue on May 27.
It also gives students from outside the community an idea of what Fort Smith is like through social events and access to recreation services. While attending the program, students live in the college residence.
About half of the students this year came from Fort Smith’s P.W. Kaeser High School. Others travelled from Lutsel K’e Dene School, Deninu School in Fort Resolution, Chief Sunrise Education Centre on the Hay River Reserve and Diamond Jenness Secondary School in Hay River.
Classroom projects for the week ranged from taking apart a manual transmission to building a birdhouse and learning how to fly an airplane (using Northwestern Air Lease’s in-office flight simulator).
For instructors, the programs give them the chance to work with a bunch of enthusiastic youth.
“It’s good to have these students come in here and learn carpentry,” apprenticeship carpentry instructor Lawrence Cheezie told The Journal.
Cheezie said the kids only get six hours to learn about a trade, so it is important to give them a simple project that can be completed in a day. In birdhouse construction, Cheezie teaches them how to sand wood, hammer nails and paint the houses. At the end of the day, they have a completed project they can take home. They also receive educational credit.
Kier Lindsay, a P.W. Kaeser student, told The Journal he opted to join the program because it was fun. Lindsay plans to pursue a computer science education following high school.
Sweetgrass Casaway, a student from Lutsel K’e, was one of several students who included mechanics in her schedule.
“It looked interesting,” she said while working on a transmission.
Some students have already made up their mind to go into the trades, and the Trades Awareness Program helps them to choose the one most appropriate for them. Matthew Walsh, a P.W. Kaeser student who took carpentry, plumbing, electrical and mechanical, told The Journal he wants get into the trades.
“It’s a good program for helping students think about their career path,” said Brent Kaulback, assistant superintendent of the South Slave Divisional Education Council.
Some students from past years have returned to Aurora College to get their certificate in one of several trades offered by the college, he said.
Dennis Bevington, Western-Arctic MP, told assembled students and guests at the welcome barbecue that the North needs a lot of skilled trades workers in the future. Bevington began his career in the North as a carpenter.
“I’ve always been proud that I work with my hands and make things,” Bevington told the students.
Students have the option to return in September for an intensive, week-long program to focus on one particular trade.